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Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2015 1:29 am
by CherryShimp87
Hey guys,

Here's the run down. I have had a fluval spec 2.5 gallon running on my office desk at work for about two and a half years. The anubias I planted has gotten huge (it has nearly reached the top) and the java ferns have filled in everywhere the anubias hasn't with the exception of a little open space in the front. Needless to say this little tank is heavily planted and looks very lush. I was keeping cherry shrimp in there for a very long time, changing a little water every day and running the light on a timer. Then our company moved buildings. After the move all of my shrimp disappeared mysteriously one day. I tested the water and bought some more, and they only lasted a couple of weeks. Then I noticed the water was a tad on the warm side for cherry shrimp (85 F), so I decided the new office must be a bit warm (being summer time and lack of AC this was a reasonable conclusion). I neglected the tank for 2-3 weeks before finally taking it home. As I was unplugging everything I realized that a coworker had moved all of my plugs. One of which belongs to a little non thermostat heater I put in there for the winter months and had left unplugged for the summer. Well....he plugged it back in. no wonder the shrimp died! Doh!

The plants survived the neglect and move to my apartment wonderfully. However, as part of the neglect I did not keep the water topped off. When you do this in this tank, the level in the back sumps drops a lot as the pump pushes more water into the front than what comes in. I think this let my sponge dry out. As a result, I have been testing my tank daily since it arrived in the apartment as I want to get some more cherries and possibly a betta. I am finding that I have 2.0 ppm ammonia, 0 nitrites, 0 nitrates.

Am I right in assuming this is because the sponge dried out and I should not do any water changes until the plants/sponge finish re-cycling? I will keep it topped off this time.

Oh I should also note that the source water I have is a 3 gallon jug of RO water with a half a teaspoon of Kent RO right added. I do not like using tap water in my planted tanks. This is my first very successful attempt at keeping live plants and I consider the RO water with Kent RO right to be the deciding factor in success/failure.

Substrate is a little over an inch of flourite.

Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2015 9:50 am
by Diana
Here is the fishless cycle.
With no livestock, I would do this to re-establish the bacteria colonies.
It ought to cycle really fast, given all the plants. There will be a good colony of bacteria in there to move on into the sponge.

Use the 1 ppm max dose on the ammonia, tested and adjusted twice a day. I have burned Anubias leaves with higher doses.

Cycle: To grow the beneficial bacteria that remove ammonia and nitrite from the aquarium.

Fish-In Cycle: To expose fish to toxins while using them as the source of ammonia to grow nitrogen cycle bacteria. Exposure to ammonia burns the gills and other soft tissue, stresses the fish and lowers their immunity. Exposure to nitrite makes the blood unable to carry oxygen. Research methemglobinemia for details.

Fishless Cycle: The safe way to grow more bacteria, faster, in an aquarium, pond or riparium.

The method I give here was developed by 2 scientists who wanted to quickly grow enough bacteria to fully stock a tank all at one time, with no plants helping, and overstock it as is common with Rift Lake Cichlid tanks.

1a) Set up the tank and all the equipment. You can plant if you want. Include the proper dose of dechlorinator with the water.
Optimum water chemistry:
GH and KH above 3 German degrees of hardness. A lot harder is just fine.
pH above 7, and into the mid 8s is just fine.
Temperature in the upper 70s F (mid 20s C) is good. Higher is OK if the water is well aerated.
A trace of other minerals may help. Usually this comes in with the water, but if you have a pinch of KH2PO4, that may be helpful.
High oxygen level. Make sure the filter and power heads are running well. Plenty of water circulation.
No toxins in the tank. If you washed the tank, or any part of the system with any sort of cleanser, soap, detergent, bleach or anything else make sure it is well rinsed. Do not put your hands in the tank when you are wearing any sort of cosmetics, perfume or hand lotion. No fish medicines of any sort.
A trace of salt (sodium chloride) is OK, but not required.
This method of growing bacteria will work in a marine system, too. The species of bacteria are different.

1b) Optional: Add any source of the bacteria that you are growing to seed the tank. Cycled media from a healthy tank is good. Decor or some gravel from a cycled tank is OK. Live plants or plastic are OK. I have even heard of the right bacteria growing in the bio film found on driftwood. (So if you have been soaking some driftwood in preparation to adding it to the tank, go ahead and put it into the tank) Bottled bacteria is great, but only if it contains Nitrospira species of bacteria. Read the label and do not waste your money on anything else.
At the time this was written the right species could be found in:
Dr. Tims One and Only
Tetra Safe Start
Microbe Lift Nite Out II
...and perhaps others.
You do not have to jump start the cycle. The right species of bacteria are all around, and will find the tank pretty fast.

2) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This ammonia is the cheapest you can find. No surfactants, no perfumes. Read the fine print. This is often found at discount stores like Dollar Tree, or hardware stores like Ace. You could also use a dead shrimp form the grocery store, or fish food. Protein breaks down to become ammonia. You do not have good control over the ammonia level, though.
Some substrates release ammonia when they are submerged for the first time. Monitor the level and do enough water changes to keep the ammonia at the levels detailed below.

3) Test daily. For the first few days not much will happen, but the bacteria that remove ammonia are getting started. Finally the ammonia starts to drop. Add a little more, once a day, to test 5 ppm.

4) Test for nitrite. A day or so after the ammonia starts to drop the nitrite will show up. When it does allow the ammonia to drop to 3 ppm.

5) Test daily. Add ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. If the nitrite or ammonia go to 5 ppm do a water change to get these lower. The ammonia removing species and the nitrite removing species (Nitrospira) do not do well when the ammonia or nitrite are over 5 ppm.

6) When the ammonia and nitrite both hit zero 24 hours after you have added the ammonia the cycle is done. You can challenge the bacteria by adding a bit more than 3 ppm ammonia, and it should be able to handle that, too, within 24 hours.

7) Now test the nitrate. Probably sky high!
Do as big a water change as needed to lower the nitrate until it is safe for fish. Certainly well under 20, and a lot lower is better. This may call for more than one water change, and up to 100% water change is not a problem. Remember the dechlor!
If you will be stocking right away (within 24 hours) no need to add more ammonia. If stocking will be delayed keep feeding the bacteria by adding ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. You will need to do another water change right before adding the fish.

Helpful hints:

A) You can run a fishless cycle in a bucket to grow bacteria on almost any filter media like bio balls, sponges, ceramic bio noodles, lava rock or Matala mats. Simply set up any sort of water circulation such as a fountain pump or air bubbler and add the media to the bucket. Follow the directions for the fishless cycle. When the cycle is done add the media to the filter. I have run a canister filter in a bucket and done the fishless cycle.

B) The nitrogen cycle bacteria will live under a wide range of conditions and bounce back from minor set backs. By following the set up suggestions in part 1a) you are setting up optimum conditions for fastest reproduction and growth.
GH and KH can be as low as 1 degree, but watch it! These bacteria use the carbon in carbonates, and if it is all used up (KH = 0) the bacteria may die off.
pH as low as 6.5 is OK, but by 6.0 the bacteria are not going to be doing very well. They are still there, and will recover pretty well when conditions get better.
Temperature almost to freezing is OK, but they must not freeze, and they are not very active at all. They do survive in a pond, but they are slow to warm up and get going in the spring. This is where you might need to grow some in a bucket in a warm place and supplement the pond population. Too warm is not good, either. Tropical or room temperature tank temperatures are best. (68 to 85*F or 20 to 28*C)
Moderate oxygen can be tolerated for a while. However, to remove lots of ammonia and nitrite these bacteria must have oxygen. They turn one into the other by adding oxygen. If you must stop running the filter for an hour or so, no problem. If longer, remove the media and keep it where it will get more oxygen.
Once the bacteria are established they can tolerate some fish medicines. This is because they live in a complex film called Bio film on all the surfaces in the filter and the tank. Medicines do not enter the bio film well.
These bacteria do not need to live under water. They do just fine in a humid location. They live in healthy garden soil, as well as wet locations.

C) Planted tanks may not tolerate 3 ppm or 5 ppm ammonia. It is possible to cycle the tank at lower levels of ammonia so the plants do not get ammonia burn. Add ammonia to only 1 ppm, but test twice a day, and add ammonia as needed to keep it at 1 ppm. The plants are also part of the bio filter, and you may be able to add the fish sooner, if the plants are thriving.

Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2015 8:06 pm
by CherryShimp87
Thanks! It looks like it is doing a pretty good job creating ammonia for itself at the moment and I can't see it being a good idea to add more right now. I will monitor it closely, and when the ammonia (and the following nitrite) is gone I may consider building up the cycle even more with ammonia before adding any critters. I will also save these instructions for later.

Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2015 3:55 pm
by Diana
Yes, if there is an ammonia source already in the tank, then just do enough water changes to keep it under about 1 ppm so the plant leaves are OK. Many plants will handle more ammonia than 1 ppm.

Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Sun Aug 02, 2015 12:27 pm
by CherryShimp87
Ok so it has had two weeks to cycle and I have been testing 1-2 times a day as my schedule permits. I have never detected a Nitrite spike, however ammonia still stays just over 2 ppm even after water changes (I tested the source water to find 0 ppm). I do have nitrates building up to 20 ppm in 24 hours which would seem to indicate that the biological bacteria is doing something.

So where is the ammonia coming from? Well I thought that perhaps the plants over grew each other so I removed more than half of the java ferns (there really wasn't much empty space left in this tank, it was pretty packed with plants). While I did find a few dead leaves this hasn't helped at all. It almost seems like the plants are failing but they look very lush. I am getting a little bit of algae growth on the glass as well.

I have never actually cleaned the filter media. I pulled it out to have a look and it didn't seem clogged or anything. Lots of bio stuff came out of it into the tank after I messed with it. I noticed that I had a big bag of carbon in there that would have been in there since day one. could this be the source of my problem? I have heard about activated carbon dumping stuff back into the water.

Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2015 10:14 pm
by Diana
A filter that has not been cleaned can trap food and feces and other ammonia producing things.
First step is to clean the filter.
Throw away the carbon. It does not release the stuff it traps.

Ammonia has to come from somewhere. Almost always a decomposing protein. Dead fish or shrimp, decomposing food, fallen leaves (small source).

Completely clean out the whole tank, dump, rinse through the substrate, clean the filter and everything else, and reassemble, then check it for ammonia, nitrite or nitrate.

Also, check your water for GH, KH and pH, and compare these to the optimum parameters in the fishless cycle.

Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Thu Aug 20, 2015 12:19 am
by CherryShimp87
It took some time to get the tank cleaned out and the remaining ammonia processed in the bio filter. not to mention it took me some time to find a local source of ammonia that works (Ace hardware, strangely enough, has 10% for $3 a quart with no additives). I started dosing to 1 ppm (about two drops) on Sunday. Monday morning all the ammonia was gone and the Nitrites were in excess of 5 ppm. I have been doing 50% water changes to get the nitrites down and redosing ammonia to 1 ppm once a day. It has been about 4 days now since the first dose. The ammonia disappears so fast (0 ppm in a few hours) but it doesn't seem like the nitrite bacteria is active yet. Is this normal? There isn't much indication in your instructions as to how long this might take.

The GH, KH, and pH are all on the upper end of what the instructions mention is ok. The pH seems to drop over time to the mid 6 range and swings wildly back up to 8.0-8.5 with water change. Might have to find some way to regulate that better...

The plants do not seem to mind the Nitrites, and the anubias has even sent up a new leaf.

Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2015 10:57 am
by Diana
Yes, it is common for the second population (Nitrospira) of bacteria to take longer to grow. They are slower growing, and it may take several days to a week for them to catch up to the first group. If the nitrite keeps on going over 5 ppm, then dose even less ammonia until the Nitrospira catches up.

That thorough cleaning seems to have cleaned up that mysterious source of ammonia, though. That is good.

Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2015 6:45 pm
by ballpc
Diana wrote:Yes, it is common for the second population (Nitrospira) of bacteria to take longer to grow. They are slower growing, and it may take several days to a week for them to catch up to the first group. If the nitrite keeps on going over 5 ppm, then dose even less ammonia until the Nitrospira catches up.

It is now known that ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) far outnumber ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) (such as Nitrospira) in most terrestrial and aquatic environments and therefore do the bulk of the work in aquarium nitrification. :think:


Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 12:26 am
by CherryShimp87
It has been a solid week since I started the fishless cycle. I read in another forum that nano tanks such as mine can take 2-3 weeks to pass this part of the cycle. Something about the diminutive volume of the tank seems to work against the cycling process. Looks like I should just continue on as I am.

Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 9:29 am
by ballpc
Doing a fishless cycle is a slow boring process. Here's a great article on the method I use.....

Best of luck - Dennis

Re: Ammonia in Established Planted Aquarium

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 9:55 pm
by Diana
Actually, Nitrospira is the nitrite > nitrate genus. Not ammonia oxidizing.
Yes, the votes are still out about the exact species that turn ammonia > nitrite.